No one was waiting for this longer than Sara Motusesky.
A Robbinsville High varsity softball player for four seasons, the senior centerfielder had been on the wrong side of the field at the end of state championship losses as a freshman and sophomore. Last year, the Ravens didn’t even get past the first round.
But around 9:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 3, Motusesky stood on the infield of Kean University’s Cougar Stadium wearing a grin that would make The Joker envious. Robbinsville had just taken a 2-0 win over previously unbeaten Ramsey in the NJSIAA Group II championship game, avenging a state final loss from two years ago.
Motusesky appeared half overjoyed and half in a daze.
“Dreams, man, dreams,” she replied when asked how it felt. “This has been a dream for me since my freshman year. Two years of losing for me, it was hard. There was definitely a lot of crying. But it’s just motivation to come out the next year to go out and get it.”
Robbinsville got it, thanks to one of the great pitching performances in recent state softball memory. Junior Kate Hunter was nearly unhittable through six state tournament wins.
After pitching one scoreless inning in the opener against New Providence before deferring to MacKenzie Medders in what quickly became a blowout, Hunter proceeded to throw five straight shutouts. She did not allow a run in 39 innings, yielding 16 hits and six walks while striking out 41.
Her scoreless streak came to an end by allowing a first-inning run to Cedar Grove in a 2-1 Tournament of Champions loss, but it could not detract from a phenomenal post-season for the Queens University-bound hurler.
“Oh my God, she stepped up into a huge role,” said Motusesky, the team’s lone senior. “She’s done great all year, she’s been clutch. I appreciate her so much. She’s had a huge impact on this team. It’s insane what she’s done.”
Sophomore shortstop Chelsea Manto, who sparked the Ravens all year from her leadoff spot, felt that Hunter’s presence washed over the entire infield.
“Oh my gosh, so unbelievably good,” Manto said. “She keeps calm in everything she does, she keeps the whole infield calm when she’s pitching. When she’s throwing strikes she keeps the confidence level high for us.”
Standing amid the celebration and snapping photos when he could, athletic director Curtis Wyers noted that Hunter stepped up her game when the competition got tougher.
“She’s come out of nowhere,” Wyers said. “I mean, she’s always been good but now she just put this team on her back and has taken them to the next level. She’s been unbelievable. Behind the scenes, she’s very quiet, she’s very humble. She works hard in the off-season and overall she’s a team leader.”
Hunter’s mindset against Ramsey, which was 29-0 entering the game, was to not dwell on their numbers too much, and just worry about making pitches.
“I knew they were undefeated and they were a good hitting team,” she said. “But you try not to dig too deep into it.”
Hunter had a giant scare in the first inning when she appeared to have given up a three-run homer that went about a foot foul as it soared over the left field fence. Motusesky watched in fear from centerfield.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, is this actually happening?’” she said. “I didn’t see it go foul, it could have gone either way. But it wouldn’t defeat my morale or anything like that. I believe in this team, and I knew we could have come back and won.”
Hunter settled down after the inning, allowing four hits the rest of the way.
“It was probably nerves,” Hunter said of her first-inning issues. “And being the away team is kind of hard, because you do have that half inning where you’re not as warm. I definitely needed to get warm, get it worked out.”
Robbinsville gave its hurler all the support she needed in the top of the third. Like so many games at this level, some breaks helped pave the way. Devon Witt reached on a one-out error and was forced at second by Manto’s ground out. Shea Walsh then singled for the first of her two hits, and Motusesky’s deep fly ball went over the left fielder’s head as she misjudged it, allowing two runs to score on a double.
“Going into that at-bat I know I’m a pretty good two-out hitter and I want to be in that position,” Motusesky said. “You want to be the person up there swinging the bat. I definitely watched the ball as it went out there. I wanted to tack some runs on after that. We didn’t get any more runs but our defense won the game.”
Ramsey tried answering in the bottom of the inning, putting runners on first and second with one out. But Hunter got two straight infield pop-outs to escape. She then went into shutdown mode, allowing a two-out double in the fifth and a leadoff single in the sixth, but nothing else.
Hunter felt she shifted her effort into a higher gear when states rolled around.
“It’s a whole other mindset just knowing how much is riding on it,” she said. “Just knowing it’s sudden death and knowing any game could be your last. It’s just wanting to go out there and do it for my team and for people who were rooting for me and are part of the reason I’m here now.”
Walsh, a sophomore, also felt it took some time for her and Hunter to develop chemistry as this was the first season she caught Hunter.
“I think it takes every pitcher and catcher time to form that relationship,” Walsh said. “We formed it fast and that just makes it easier. I think she’s been more comfortable with me catching. And the defense behind her. I think that’s been really pushing her to pitch as best as she can.”
Hunter felt it was not too difficult for the two to mesh.
“She’s very easy as a catcher; she’s high spirited and she’s very supportive,” Hunter said. “It wasn’t very hard and we got lot closer, obviously, as the season went along. I love her catching me, I feel so much calmer with her catching me.”
Hunter felt that her two-week state performance was the best groove she had ever been in, and thought it was the best sustained effort by her teammates as well. The Ravens reached the final by defeating Cedar Creek, which put their record at 6-0 in state semifinals. The Group II title was the third in program history, and Lisa Rich became the third different Robbinsville head coach to win one. Rich got help from former Princeton coach Dave Boehm, who was brought in as an assistant, and the team itself bonded well.
“We got really close this year,” Hunter said. “We love each other so much, we’re like a family. Just going out and having fun and doing it for each other really made us come out to where we are now.”
Walsh felt that closeness helped the Ravens get through some early jitters against Ramsey.
“I think we all had a little bit of nerves,” the catcher said. “But when we stepped onto the field we told each other we all had each other’s back and that got rid of the nerves.”
Robbinsville finished with a 24-5 record with several highlights. It won its second straight Mercer County Tournament title, handed defending Group III champion Steinert its first loss after a 7-0 start, and resumed its perch as best in Group II.
Could a better script have been written?
“Honestly, no,” Manto said. “This is all we ever dreamed of. Getting here was our only goal and winning was even better. We couldn’t ask for anything more, this is all we wanted.”